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Send ’em home happy

Tomorrow at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, I’m presenting an ignite talk. As part of my final preparations I am sharing a transcript of what I plan to say here:

Hi, I’m Deb Baker, Adult Services Manager at Concord Public Library in Concord, NH. I’m going to share my library’s customer service initiative, Send ‘Em Home Happy — intentional, affirmative customer service.

Around the time I became Adult Services Manager I got to attend PLA and also Supervisor’s Academy at Primex in Concord. I was FULL of ideas, and I wanted to write them ALL into my annual goals.

My biggest idea was this: what if we radically changed the way we interacted with the public at the service desks? Yes, we would still check items out and answer questions (mostly about where people’s print jobs have gone), but what if we looked at patron interactions as a way of connecting the library with the community?

What if we made our desk interactions relational, instead of just transactional? With our interim library directors’ blessing I invited Carl Weber, who teaches the customer service module at Supervisor’s Academy, to come in and work with the managers.

He asked us to notice our own interactions in stores and offices around town. Did we feel like we belonged or mattered? Like we never wanted to go there again? Or somewhere in between? And why?

He also suggested we sit down with our work groups and ask: what rules or procedures are getting in the way of providing good customer service in the library? This very interesting.

A couple of changes we made: teens no longer need an adult present to get a library card. And desk staff can override the system’s block when a patron whose card has expired calls to renew items or place holds.

Another thing Carl helped us see was that our desk staff didn’t always engage with people. Sometimes they (ok, to be honest — we) didn’t even look up from our monitors very much.

There was a reason — for years, staff were told not to be too chatty and to stay “busy” at the desks. They knew being friendly was important but there had been no formal training in how to promote the library through patron engagement. We had some staff trainings about the customer service interaction, and Carl spoke to the staff about the work the managers were doing.

One thing I learned at PLA is that librarians universally make the same marketing mistake: we know the library is awesome, what we have to offer is awesome, so we assume everyone else knows that too.

But I’ve had even longtime patrons thank me for showing them something as simple as how to login to their account online to renew items or where to find staff reviews. What’s obvious to us isn’t obvious to even our most regular patrons.

So every other month the CPL staff chooses a “Did You Know” feature to promote at our desks. We put up signs with a visual and a little info. on the patron side and talking points on the staff side to foster conversations.

During this whole process, our staff began to to think creatively about how to connect with patrons through displays, readers advisory and programming. What’s your staff into? Knitting? Zentangle? Cats?

Don’t be afraid to try something that might flop — staff passions have to match public interest to work. I tried another idea from PLA: Short & Sweet, a story or essay discussion and dessert. I had to let it go after 6 months of very low attendance.

But a staffer in her 20’s who really knows her geek stuff has very loyal followings for D&D Game Night and Teen Anime Club. She thrives and we thrive not just because we put these on the schedule, but because she’s connected to these communities and is bringing them into the library.

Someone on your staff who usually works behind the scenes may have something cool to share. In our case, a tech. services staffer set up a coloring station in the break room. Her art supplies are really cool and she got just about everyone to try it.

I asked her to consider offering adult coloring night. She was a little shy about it because she hadn’t done programming, but it’s our best attended offering — not just because coloring is hot, but also because she’s really good at sharing what she enjoys.

When our new director started we told him all we’d been doing and suggested library-wide customer service goals:

  • be relational instead of just transactional
  • get out of our own way – change the rules
  • connect people with resources & programs through desk interactions
  • use what staff is into to connect to the community
  • and, do the transactional stuff well, too — no one likes it if their items aren’t checked in on time or their holds aren’t placed

He listened to us and said, “Doesn’t this all come down to one big idea?”

Send everyone home happy.

So that’s what we’re aiming for with every interaction.




About Deb Baker

Deb Baker is a writer and insatiable reader, and library director at a community college. She muses about library issues at The Nocturnal Librarian ( and blogs about books, reading, and life at bookconscious ( Her family includes two awesome offspring, a husband, and the cat who adopted them. And a crazy rescue kitten.

2 responses to “Send ’em home happy

  1. Great post. Your talk will be even better!

  2. Margaret Aldrich ⋅

    This is great, Deb! A lot of it seems to be working well. Thank you! Peg

    Sent from my iPad


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